Supporting a creative path

Picked up a great book yesterday, titled, “Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative”, by Austin Kleon.   Fostering creativity is something I’ve come to value more and more and for which I will cast aside other, more practical pursuits.

Both for myself and for my kids.

My own creative path has been fitful and fraught.  As a kid I was a gymnast with a love of dance.  In high school I dreamed of being a professional dancer; a dream dashed by well meaning stories of doom and failure and virtual starvation.  Ah the life of the gypsy!   Maybe I wouldn’t have been good enough anyway, but I never really put it to the test.

Writing was something I enjoyed, but in my own mind, and the minds of others – including teachers who pointed it out to me- my brother was the “real” writer in our family.  This mindset held me back for decades.   And it is true, my brother is a brilliant writer;  I am Nora Roberts to his Ray Bradbury, but isn’t there room for both?

Regardless, writing went on the back burner for a very long time.

Photography?  Love it.  LOVE it!  My first semester of my Freshman year in college, one of my hall-mates taught me how to develop my own film in the dingy little darkroom found in the basement of our dorm.   I went nuts with my crappy SLR, taking black and white photos and developing them; messing around with the light and seeing what a longer or shorter exposure could do.   Working in the darkroom I would completely lose track of time, forgetting meal times and study schedules.   Those who know me at all know how very rare that is.

Two things happened after that:  The hall mate who introduced me to the darkroom?  She came back after our 6 week winter break and told me she’d won $150 in a photography competition.  When she showed me the photo, I think I gasped.   It was a photo I had taken and spent hours messing with in order to get the light just right.    When I told her, she kind of shook her head and said, “No, I mean…”.    Here it is, albeit somewhat beat up & slightly discolored from twenty+ years of languishing in a box….

That girl still owes me $150.

Combined with the fact that my boyfriend at the time was a darn good photographer and had grandparents who could deny him nothing, especially the latest photo equipment, I was somehow discouraged.   He was the photographer.  I was (often) the subject, which truth be told I enjoyed.   And so photography went by the wayside as well – though I’ve picked it up again in recent years.  It is a great and enjoyable hobby.

Then came acting.  I started acting in Junior High School, when I played the mother in “Cheaper by the Dozen”.  In high school I continued with theater, both musicals and straight plays.   Theater is so much fun because you are an individual artist in a community of artists with a common goal.   You hone your own craft while contributing to the whole.   In college I played Marianne in “Tartuffe” and was asked for my autograph by a young girl after one of the performances.   I did dinner theater and plays.

And then I got a new boyfriend.

He was a fantastic actor.  He still is, as far as I know.  But he didn’t like my ambition in that regard, and being silly and immature, I believed him when he said that if I really wanted to be an actor I should have majored in Theater, not English Literature.   To be fair, I’m not sure I liked acting as much as I liked performing.  Hand me a microphone and put me in front of a group of people and I’m in heaven.    Actually, just put me in front of a group of people – that’s why I excelled in gymnastics.  I was always better at meets than in practice, unlike many who get nervous as soon as someone is watching.

So acting?  Nope.  (Although I still love it, particularly when it comes to the art and craft of movie-making – which of course is not all about acting.  I’m the nerd who wants a 5 part “making of” extra on each DVD so that I can see, not only how they went about casting a film, but how they made that jump off the cliff look real, or how they lit the forest or church to give the illusion of dawn, or rain, or whatever.  Yes, I’m THAT person.)

And then, finally after years of pushing it aside, I’ve come back to writing.  I started writing a blog for the sole purpose of creating a writing habit and logging our journey as unschoolers.    I’ve written two complete fiction manuscripts and have 3 others in outline form.   I’ve queried agents on one novel and been given positive feedback with pointers on a re-write before submitting again.

So that’s what I’m doing now.

Two years ago I attended a writers conference and met an incredible group of women who were not only gifted writers but supportive of each other.   What an unusual experience to be around other people who have similar goals but who, instead of discouraging me in my own efforts or viewing me as their competition, are constantly there – even all this time later – to read my stuff and offer their support and truly constructive criticism.

Of course, you might say that I shouldn’t have listened to the naysayers, the “vampires”, and that if I’d really been serious about my creative pursuits, I’d have pushed on in the face of all negativity.

And maybe you are right.   Maybe this would have been my creative path no matter what anyone said or did.   Ultimately it brought me to where I am today and although sometimes I think “Geez, took me long enough!”  I have no regrets.

But. I see kids all the time who are discouraged from creative pursuits by sometimes well-meaning, sometimes selfish people.   I see those kids put away the things they love in favor of things someone else suggests.   Yes, there are the rare few who don’t care what others think and will push on in the face of all negativity and against all odds.

Those people are heroes.

Just in case my kids aren’t that brave – after all, I wasn’t – I want them to know that they shouldn’t give up on creating because there is someone else who is “better” at it.   Better by whose definition?  I want them to know that the decision is theirs to make – that if they really want something, they should pursue it until they decide otherwise.  Try everything.  Create all the time.  Be fulfilled.

Which brings us back to the book I’m reading.  Here is my favorite section in it, so far:

School Yourself

School is one thing.  Education is another.  The two don’t always overlap.  Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education.

You have to be curious about the world in which you live.  Looks things up.  Chase down every reference.  Go deeper than anyone else — that’s how you’ll get ahead.

Google everything.  I mean everything.  Google your dreams, Google your problems.  Don’t ask a question before you Google it.  You’ll either find the answer or you’ll come up with a better question.

Always be reading.  Go to the library.  There’s magic in being surrounded by books.  Get lost in the stacks.  Read bibliographies.  It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.

Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away.  Filmmaker John Waters has said, “Nothing is more important than an unread library.”

Don’t worry about doing research.  Just search.

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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2 Responses to Supporting a creative path

  1. M says:

    !!! Because time goes by anyway. !!!! There used to be billboards and ads that said “Just Do It” (Nike?). M

  2. Cynthia says:

    this is my FAVORITE book on creativity! Everyone will say they love The Artist Way but honestly, I found that book to be so cluttered. I like simplicity. Steal like an Artist is simple but SO profound.